My family, the war and Silesia
In German Roots Laura Starink paints a very personal picture of her mother’s family in wartime. She visited Klausberg, a mining town in Silesia on the border with Poland, with her mother who was born there, in order to reconstruct the life of an ordinary teacher’s family under Nazism and Communism.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat and the arrival of the Red Army in Silesia, the Germans living in the region paid a terrible price for Hitler’s ruthless conquest of Poland. Stalin gave Silesia to Poland as compensation for Polish territories that he intended to keep. From one day to the next the family found itself in a hostile country. In the chaos of 1945 countless Germans were rounded up and put in their own concentration camps, where revenge was meted out for the war crimes of the Wehrmacht and the SS. Starink’s aunt Lotte, then seventeen, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and forced to do hard labour for the Russians.
Millions of Germans were deported, with the assent of the Allies. Others tried to adjust to their new circumstances. Starink noted down her relatives’ stories, read letters and documents, and spoke to historians and survivors, as well as searching Polish archives to discover the facts about Silesia’s post-war history, which remains little known outside Germany. She also asked her family about the Nazi era, the Hitler Youth, forced labour and the persecution of the Jews.
Her mother Elinor was the oldest of six children, none of whom bore any responsibility for the Second World War but who were nevertheless blamed for it all their lives. Only after the war did her mother learn of the existence of the nearby camp at Auschwitz. Fifty years later, in 1994, Starink visited the extermination camp with her mother. It was a harrowing confrontation. ‘I could feel shame in her, and horror,’ Starink writes, ‘but also a kind of inner protest: it’s not my fault. I don’t have this on my conscience.’
German Roots digs deep into recent European history and urges restraint in passing judgement on ordinary young people who were totally unaware of their part in a historical catastrophe. The author sought out and questioned her elderly relatives only just in time. German Roots is an astonishing story, but a common one; a similar fate struck millions of people in Central Europe after the war.
- A shocking account in which a devastated world with all its tragedies is snatched from oblivion.
- A disconcerting portrait of ordinary people in a war-ravaged corner of Europe.
- Oral history combined with thoroughly researched evidence from the archives.